The Fires Of The Furnace
I, like many of you, sensed early on that something different was afoot this year. This team had some metal to it beyond just playing good football. In fact, to be honest, the football hadn’t exactly been vintage in the run-in last year. But this pre-season showed that plenty of flair was available, and so they promised the best of both worlds for this season.
In fact, as early as April, the canny Scot had correctly surmised: “there’s some indication that Arsenal are building a better squad than people think.”
Ferguson?! And Neville? Why did it have to be them two that “got it” and who got us when no one else did?
We got robbed against Villa. Then under intense pressure, we beat Fenerbahce twice and Fulham for good measure. We approached the NLD day with a quiet confidence, despite the fact we had signed no one (no offense, Flammers) while they had signed everyone. I wondered would they now have enough players to supply 2 NLD starting XI’s. Would we get 1 player on the subs bench for either side, I mused? Nevertheless with our weakened team and our non-bench, we shocked the world and stuffed the Spuds and their 7 new signings (100m.)
And then the unthinkable happened. We landed Mesut Effing Ozil. Arsene, the manager who couldn’t get a signing and didn’t know how to operate in the transfer window any more, pulled Ozil out of Real Madrid despite the fact that Ozil had Cristiano Ronaldo wrapped around one ankle and Sami Khedira wrapped around the other, both sobbing as a hurt Gareth Bale looked on, Louis Vuitton washbag under his arm, pricetag still attached. (To him and the washbag.) We got the best #10 on the planet. They got the washbag douchebag. I’d have sobbed too.
Something else happened soon afterwards. They announced the CL groups. There is always a group of death. I didn’t want us to go in the G.O.D., but when it was announced, I embraced it. If this is to be our year then that group would surely bring out the best in us. If we had it in us in the first place. This group comprising Dortmund, the CL finalists with Klopp the genius; and Napoli who had spent a bunch of money and had hired Benitez for his CL savvy; and a feared Marseille team. Wenger would be up against 2 managers in Klopp and Benitez who were far superior European tacticians than him so the media assured us. For many we were 3rd favourite.
And when we saw the November schedule, and especially as we approached the Week Of Death, or W.O.D., where we face league toppers, Liverpool, with the deadliest strike force in the Premier League, unstoppable to date, followed a few days later by Dortmund, CL finalists, Gangsters of the Gegenpress, in the fearsome 80,000-holding gladiator ring, only to be followed a few days later by another gladiator ring at Old Trafford with 75,000 of our closest enemies cheering on the reigning league champions, I embraced that too.
Do well here and you will forge an unshakable belief.
I wouldn’t have asked for this, but I embraced it on behalf of my team as a rite of passage, a defining moment, a furnace to forge a new steel that would then carry us through the rest of the season, the steel from which you build a spine that will not buckle, as weaker ones had before, come March or April. The steel to shape a sword and shield for a brutal and bloody campaign.
The Blacksmith’s Forge
The forge hearth is the center of the blacksmith’s work. It is in the fire of the forge that the iron is heated to incandescent red, orange, yellow and white heats. For only at these highly elevated temperatures can the iron and steel be made plastic enough to be shaped and deformed easily and without damage to their granular structure.
There are 4 things you need to forge a good steel. You need the metal stock, you need an anvil, you need a hammer, and then you need a roaring hot coal furnace, blasting out 1,400º F.
We clearly had the metal stock we needed, even if the rest of the world didn’t believe it. An average squad full of average players, they said, (save for Cazorla and maybe Wilshere, they conceded.) So few noticed, perhaps because we assembled it player by player over several years. But perhaps their biases were years out of date, too.
Most sword experts agree that the ideal range for a durable and sharp sword is somewhere between 0.5 and 0.7 carbon content. As with everything, finding the right balance of the composite materials is the essential – Mertesacker and Koscielny – Steel and Carbon – Rosicky and Ozil – Giroud and Ramsey. Then it must be forged under the right conditions…
The furnace for this steel would be the white hot competition of the Group Of Death and now the Week Of Death, burning at 1,400ºF, while we form and reform the spine and the belief of this team.
The anvil is that thing against which the material is shaped. The imperative of a steely resilience by this team was its anvil: The defense, the Churchillian mentality, the “making our own luck.”
The hammer is the onslaught, the attacks by our worthy foes on the field of competition, the blow upon blow which we met and which serve to make us stronger, to form us. If we played Dortmund 10 more times, we would become better and stronger through that process.
But above all you need a master craftsman, a smithy. Wenger has shaped and formed a number of teams through the white heat of competition, one team in particular you may have heard of. It rhymes with Winvincibles. But the versions of 98 and 02 were pretty formidable too.
Make no mistake. The hammer and the furnace of this week have changed us, formed us, forged us into something that Rooney will fear, come March and April and May.
Muhammad Ali had Smokin’ Joe Frazier.
Sugar Ray Leonard had Thomas “The Hitman” Hearns and Marvin Hagler.
Ahab lost his leg to Moby Dick.
David faced Goliath.
Montgomery fought Rommel back and forth across North Africa.
Jesus faced down Lucifer, Satan, the Devil.
The Buddha had Mara.
Van Helsing fought the undead Count von Dracula, Vlad The Impaler.
Coe had Ovett.
McEnroe had Borg and Connors, and then Lendl.
Sampras had Agassi.
The Rolling Stones had The Beatles.
Oasis had Blur.
Sherlock Holmes had the invisible Moriarty.
The Hatfields had the McCoys.
The Sicilians had every other Sicilian.
Saint George had his dragon.
Where is our dragon? Spurs?
Hannibal fought the might of the Roman Empire. He crossed the Alps in winter with his Army. He then waged war in Italy for 16 years. 16 years on enemy soil facing Roman army after Roman army. Imagine that: surviving by wit and sheer will. Imagine just the challenge of feeding and manning an army for 16 years in enemy country, Roman country!
Roman mothers scared their children into behaving by calling out: “Hannibal ante portas” – Hannibal is at the gates.
Hannibal having defeated legion after legion then came within a hare’s breath of sacking the city of Rome, the Capital of the greatest empire the world has known.
And we have the Spuds? You have got to be shitting me?!
How embarrassing. Not exactly Vlad the Impaler, are they?
Barcelona has Real Madrid, and we have the Spuds.
No. I will not have it. We shall match our wit, our skill, our resolve, and our luck against the best, so that we can become the best.
United. Now That Was A Rivalry
Vieira vs Keane; McKeown vs van Nistelroy; Wenger vs Ferguson
God, they effing hated each other. I mean, they despised each other. And we hated them and their lackey referees and their cheating ways. And it was great!
But when the blast of war blows in our ears,Then imitate the action of the tiger:Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood,Disguise fair nature with hard-favored rage,Then lend the eye a terrible aspect
……………………………..The game’s afoot.Follow your spirit, and upon this chargeCry “God for Harry, England, and Saint George!”
Spurs? You have got to be shitting me.
Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood
We are ready now. We are ready to go to the dragon’s lair:
Jamie Redknapp on the Gunners “incredible” win against Borussia, kicking off his analysis saying Arsenal deserved the win “without doubt”.
To put that result into context, this is a side in Dortmund that blew teams away last year. They were going to Real Madrid where they were absolutely magnificent. They tore them apart.
Arsenal made [Dortmund] look distinctly average. That’s probably the greatest credit I can give them. In the second half they had opportunities. The way Arsene Wenger has his team defending, it’s fantastic. I’ve never seen Lewandowski so quiet… They’ve got a match winner in Aaron Ramsey.
Then it was the turn of Gary Neville, the man who said Arsenal’s 98 team was the best and hardest team he’d played against, even tougher than our 04 and 02 teams – “a mixture of great football and tough as hell.”
But here is what Neville had to say about this current Arsenal team:
They were really organised. You’ve got to remember that this is a team which is keeping clean sheets now, looking organised, which we’ve lambasted over the past few years. These are the same players. Ozil doesn’t actually add anything to them from a defensive structure. So what they’ve got are the same players just performing to their standards.
We’ve always stopped short of saying this is the real thing with Arsenal, and I think rightly so… I think we’re at the stage now. All the questions are being answered.
So…Let us seek out a new dragon. A fire-breathing, awesome monster. And let us slay him. On to Old Trafford and the old enemy.